Kristina Wong in her web series, "Radical Cram School," discussing media studies. (Source: Kristina Wong)
Kristina Wong is an accomplished comedian and performance artist who uses uses humor for social commentary in her work. She has addressed race and gender inequality as well as mental health
Her live shows include the "The Wong Street Journal" and "Wong Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest," and "Kristina Wong for Public Office"--all bringing awareness to social justice issues. Her web series, "How Not to Pick Up Asian Chicks" featured comical reviews on self-published books about Asian women.
Wong's latest project is the "Radical Cram School" web series featuring kids exploring structural racism, misogyny, identity and bullying.
“Radical Cram School,” is a "social justice twist" on the high intensity academic tutoring centers, also known as "cram school," frequented by Asian communities, according to the artist.
Wong talks to #AmyLieuPresents about her new series, navigating her different identities and mental health advocacy.
In the Radical Cram School series, you talk about navigating different identities every day, including being an Asian American woman. How have you personally navigated this in your life?
Ha. I think until college, I navigated this identity by trying to overcompensate for my “Asian-ness/ otherness” with showing how well I could assimilate (and swallowing a shit-ton of self hatred). I’m third generation Chinese American so my relationship to whatever it means to “be Chinese” is even more confusing because 1st and 2nd Generation Chinese Americans have always regarded me as “doing Chinese wrong” as if it can’t look a million different ways. Most of how I’ve navigate my identity now is in my performance work.
Kristina Wong and the kids of "Radical Cram School." (Source: Kristina Wong)
How did you cast the young kids of the series?
The series started as FB conversation with Teddy Chao who is the father (and a producer on our series) of 8 year old Liberty. He wanted me to sit down with Liberty and her friends ages 7-11 years old in an “Asian American Girls Town Hall” and talk about racism they were processing at their age. I blurted out “Let’s make this a web series!” Just from Liberty, her friends, and friends of friends we had a cast of six. I wanted more diverse Asian identities (as we were very East Asian) and found Emi Hope, Kaya and Kaisa through their parents who responded to my FB posting.
I know the last video of the series is a song about "Asian Girl Blues." Speaking of which, you have also been a vocal mental health advocate with your recent GMA interview, "Wong Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest," among others. Can you tell us more about your mental health challenges and how that has affected your life as well as your work?
I don’t think there’s enough room in this interview to talk about my mental health! I will say, that I’m still not sure if I have “mental health challenges” or if misery is inherent in being Chinese American. So much of how I came to doing these crazy art pieces for a living was that my only outlet that felt transformative was performance art. When I made a work, I felt validated and like all the ugly inside could be hilarious.
What would like to tell those out there who have the "Asian Girl Blues"? or even suffer from mental health challenges?
First, I must state that I’m not a mental health professional and am not “qualified” to be giving out mental health advice. So anyone reading this interview needs to take my advice with a grain of salt. That said, as someone who has overcome depression and yet still wrestles with the Asian Girl Blues, I think so much of what has saved me is finding a community that supports me and an outlet for my expression. For me, my happiest place has been where the art and social justice communities intersect. I feel supported and heard in these worlds and I feel like the people who run in these worlds are interested in the same concerns I am. Also, singing is a great way to chase away the blues!
Your projects highlight many social justice issues. Where do you find inspiration for your projects?
Unfortunately, I don’t find myself “looking” for social justice topics to explore. They come to me! The news is horrifying and my Koreatown neighborhood is a living picture of economic inequality. I have friends who are college educated and are struggling to survive and raise kids. I know folks who are undocumented or have family members that are facing deportation or have already been deported. Even when I go on vacation, I can’t help but obsess over the aftermath of post-colonialism in the details around me.
Two kids participate in the "Radical Cram School" series. (Source: Kristina Wong)
What has been the biggest challenge(s) of being a comedian/performance artist? What has been the most rewarding experience(s)?
The economics of this line of work are just really difficult. There’s no “regular hours” or guaranteed salaries. There’s no company healthcare plan. None of this makes sense. I go into every year having no idea what I’ll make at the end. What’s most rewarding is when I get that an audience gets my work. Killing a show is a great feeling.
You feature sheroes in your series. Who is your shero?
OMG, you know what? This is a hard question to answer. I think there were a ton of strong women in my childhood but I don’t think I was really raised or inspired to admire them. I mostly watched funny white men on TV and imagined that I could be them, forgetting I didn’t look a thing like them. It took until after college for me to not be totally freaked out about the word “feminist” and what it was that I had signed on for. I unfortunately didn’t know about Yuri Kochiyama and Grace Lee Boggs until college. Had I known that Asian women like that existed, it would have changed everything. That’s why I introduce them to the kids in Radical Cram School.
Kristina Wong at a performance for "Kristina Wong for Public Office." (Source: Kristina Wong)
How can we find out more about your and work?
Patronize my work!